Food vs. ”Food”: Four Books

With concern about our industrial food system growing in recent past, books on the subject have been popping up for some time now. It wasn’t until I came across the 100 mile diet website that I picked one up. It happened to be the one written by the people who started the 100 mile diet.

Food books


The book is called Plenty, by Alisa Smith and J.B. Mackinnon. These two brave souls set out to spend a year eating only what came from within 100 miles of Vancouver, the city they call home.

It wasn’t the most exciting read, but it had some good information. Smith and Mackinnon tried the local eating thing out before it became hugely popular too, to their credit. It’s a good first-hand account of the joys and difficulties of trying to eat locally.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

The next food-related book I picked up was Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver (best known, perhaps, as the author of The Poisonwood Bible, a work of fiction) and her family undertook a similar project as the 100-mile dieters, though her write-up was a bit more fun to read. Kingsolver narrates the story of the year, while the older of her two daughters writes up recipes incorporating the seasons’ bounties and her husband adds the occasional politically minded tidbit.

I found the book to be far from preachy; in fact, I even found myself laughing at points (the description of turkey sex troubles, for instance. Did you know that so few turkeys reach mating age before being slaughtered for food that they’ve forgotten how to mate? Kingsolver decides to start up a breeding flock without the aid of artificial insemination, and the process is entertaining!). Kingsolver takes what has become such a politically charged subject–where our food comes from–and makes it an everyday topic.

Not only was it a delight to read, but it made locality and seasonality seem like natural, achievable goals for any eater. (It also just came out in paperback, and it’s definitely worth owning!) If you’re at all interested in the reasons for and benefits of eating closer to home, pick this book up today.

Michael Pollan

My third and fourth books are by well-known journalist Michael Pollan. I read them out of order, in fact; I started with In Defense of Food, still in hardcover, because it arrived first at the library. Pollan begins by explaining why food needs defending at all, and by the end of the book, you agree with him.

Pollan talks about the difference between food and food-like substances (whole, natural foods vs. the processed food-like things we’re used to eating). He also gives basic guidelines for finding the healthiest, safest, least processed morsels among the sea of food-like substances available in abundance today. (Would your great grandmother recognize the item as food? If not, run! One of Pollan’s examples: gogurt, anyone?)

It was short, sweet, and practical. Pick this one up if you’d like a solid, brief overview of what’s lurking in the supermarket aisles and how to sort the good stuff from all the crap.

I finished my overview of food books with Pollan’s other book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. In it, Pollan investigates four different food supply channels: the industrial, the industrial-organic, the local-organic, and the hunter-gatherer. With stark details, he describes the landscapes of these four systems and the processes that go on within them. He visits a feedlot and an industrial corn farm, tours an industrial organic packaging plant, spends a few days working on Joel Salatin’s sustainable farm, and learns to hunt wild boar and identify edible wild mushrooms.

Of all four books I’ve read on the subject of food lately, this one has had the most impact on my eating habits and desires. Read it and you’ll see what I mean. I highly recommend The Omnivore’s Dilemma if you want an honest look at where our food comes from. Pollan’s point is that none of these four systems is the answer to our food problems; none is sustainable by itself.